Writing Log Update and Phase Two

Photobucket The writing log did not, as I suspected, end up in any better shape by the end of Sunday than it looked on Friday. I logged 294 out of a goal of 630 minutes of writing time. Discouraging. But–on to a new week.

Thus far things are looking better. Today I dove into the revision first thing this morning (well, after I slept in), and worked on it intermittently through the day. Thus I have 194 minutes logged already, and I’m through eight scenes incorporating changes and adding things. It’s flowing well, and despite the weekend break I still feel I have a good handle on the novel in its totality and what things need to happen. Interesting things I had to do in relation to the revision today included reading poetry by T.S. Eliot and Percy Bysshe Shelley, investigating brain function, and considering the possible side effects of an invented medication (being married to a pharmacist came in extremely handy at that point, as you can imagine).

Tomorrow will be school library day, and then I believe a Third Person Press meeting in the evening, so it is not likely to be nearly as productive. In fact, I will feel lucky to get any revision time in at all. But we’ll see how it goes. I am not revising my goal time back down after last week’s poor showing; I’ll stick with the new time until I get it.

On a side note, I spent far too much time today (and yesterday) trying to figure out and keep up-to-date on the Amazon and MacMillan brouhaha. I’m still in the My Head Hurts Trying To Fully Understand it All camp, and likely to stay there despite reading many illuminating blog posts and commentaries. My only conclusion is that the ebook battle has scarce begun, and there looks to be no clear end in sight.

ROML* Rolls Over Another Week

Photobucket While I still have two days left to log writing time for this week, they will be the weekend, so I think it’s highly unlikely that I will get to my goal hours this time around. Maybe it serves me right for getting cocky about how well last week went (614 minutes) and upping my goal by half an hour. When I think about it, though, it was mostly *Rest Of My Life issues that kept me from writing.

I’m really not sure what I can do about that except try to plan better (the things I CAN plan) and try to find catch-up time when the planning doesn’t work.


In other news, I came to a huge and sad realization last night. I need to get rid of some books.

I’ve been buying books since I was in university and the city offered a variety of used book stores, of which I would make the rounds almost every weekend. The book acquisition habit has continued over the years, and although I do get more titles from the library these days (especially when trying an author for the first time) I still like to buy books. Part of me would like to count the number of books in the house–and part of me is afraid to do that.

However, when I was doing some pre-housecleaning housecleaning in the bedroom last week, I realized that I have at least 50+ books in that room alone waiting to be read or in various stages of being read. And when I do read them–I have nowhere to put them if I want to move new to-be-read books into that space. Every bookshelf in the house is already packed or over-packed. I don’t see us adding a new room to the house just to hold books. Sooooo…the only conclusion is that I have to get rid of some. And while we’re planning a Great Purge of the house this spring, the idea of sorting through the books and moving some them out of here is more daunting than all the rest of the things that I know need to be done.

*Sigh* I wonder if I could convince my husband to add on that extra room…

Photo courtesy of mzacha @ sxc.hu

End of Revision Phase One

Photobucket This morning I arrived at the end of this phase of the revision process. That means I have a well-marked-up manuscript and approximately twelve handwritten looseleaf pages of notes on changes, scenes to add, inconsistencies to clear up, and things to check.

I have a feeling that that was the easy part.

All told, I logged fourteen hours of time working on this part of the revision. I expect the next phase will take much longer.

For this phase, I’ve been working at the kitchen table, because it offered me lots of room for my laptop, the various piles of manuscript pages, the notes binder, etc. Also, I’ve always found it helpful to do editing work away from my usual writing space. I don’t really know why that is; could have something to do with the different kind of brain activity, I suppose. I like to sit down away from the computer with the printout and red pen to do that kind of work.

At any rate, now I’ll be taking my pile of pages and notes and heading down to my office, to do the typing-in and new writing at my desktop machine. I’ll likely have to do some desk-cleaning first, but I think that will provide a good mental buffer while I switch from pure editorial mode into a sort of combined editor/writer mode.

The Revision Process (part 2)

Photobucket I could title this post “Into the Wilderness,” because that’s sort of what this part of the revision process feels like. It isn’t quite wilderness, because I have come this way before, but the path ahead looks challenging and unforgiving. Well, that’s because it is.

We left off last time at the point of picking up a colored-ink pen and starting to read from the beginning of the manuscript. I’ve done the preliminary work of gathering all my tools and setting up my StoryLines document, and now I’m beginning the first phase of the revision process. I’m doing two things on this read-thorough. I’m noticing problems and making note of them, and jotting down any ideas I have right then about how to fix them. Some of the things I’m looking for and how I’m dealing with them:

  • If it’s a simple matter of sentence structure, grammar issues, word substitution or the like, I make inline edits.
  • If I think a few more lines of narrative or dialogue are needed, and I know what they are, I write them in, using the back of the page if necessary.
  • If I need to write a new scene, I mark an asterisk in the margin and number it, then turn to my binder and write down the asterisk and number and as much detail as possible about what I think the scene needs to contain or address. I am not writing these new scenes right now.
  • If I notice an inconsistency, I may mark it with a margin note or with an asterisk and number, depending on the seriousness of the problem. For instance, if a character has inexplicably disappeared for a number of scenes, I’ll make a note that says ‘where’s X?’ I will not stop right now to figure out how to fix a problem like this. That will be for phase two.

As I finish each scene, I turn to the StoryLines program and fill out the cards for that scene. If I were an outliner, I would probably have done this work before I wrote the novel, but since I’m a discovery writer, I’m doing it at this point as a checking system. It’s a great way to get an overview of the structure and internal consistency of the story.

I’m also using the Notes section of StoryLines to keep a style sheet for the novel. This idea came from a post that appeared recently on Mary Robinette Kowal’s journal, in which she very kindly shared the style sheet her editor created for a recent novel, and talked about why such a thing is important for copyeditors, proofreaders, and typesetters in keeping the novel consistent. I thought this was also a good idea for writers in making sure the novel is consistent through the revising and editing stages, so I’m taking note of unusual words, spellings, etc.

Also in the interests of consistency, I’m taking note of little details like hair and eye colors, descriptions of recurring settings, and other items that I might have inadvertently changed through that fast first draft.

I mentioned that I’m using several different colored inks as I do this read-through and markup. This is one of Holly Lisle’s tips. Using a different color for each working session makes it easier to find the notes that belong with a particular section of the novel.

So in this fashion I am rolling through the novel, marking, cutting, fixing, jotting, noticing, thinking, assessing, and mapping. This is the first part of the process, and I expect I will have it done within the next few days. This part needs to be done fairly quickly, because I am attempting to read the entire novel into my head at once to see where the holes are. That’s why I am not stopping to work on complicated fixes at this stage. They will come in the second part of the process. And the second part will likely be more difficult…

…to be continued…

Photo credit: VinnyPrime at stock.xchng

The Revision Process (part 1)

Photobucket  I’m now a solid week into the revision process on this novel, and since I’ve recently had questions about how to tackle a big revision, I think I will detail the procedure I’m following here.  It may or may not be helpful to those undertaking their own revisions, but it might offer a starting point or help you figure out your own method.  I’ll have to break this down into several parts to provide the kind of detail I’m going to get into.

I had already read through this particular manuscript a couple of times looking for things to fix, but I had not tackled anything major.  My general impression from these initial read-throughs was that it was basically okay, but ran a bit short, needed a few more scenes, concluded too quickly, and needed some further development of the world and the magic system–at least for my own understanding.  There were inconsistencies requiring attention, a long section of chapters where a particular character seemed to disappear (I don’t mean he disappeared in the story, I mean he disappeared FROM the story), and I felt that the world and some of the characters needed deepening.

Before I started, I reread two Holly Lisle articles I remembered reading a while back: they are here and here. While I`m not following either method exactly, I do use a lot of her advice from these articles. They are well worth the time it takes to read them.

I`m also using a piece of software to assist me: Writer`s Cafe, particularly the StoryLines application. StoryLines “is a multi-storyline planning tool that helps you weave a set of virtual index cards into a finished, formatted story.” You can see a screenshot of it here. You can download a free trial of this program and see if it works for you; you could also do essentially the same thing with a big stack of index cards (but not as neatly).

In addition to the software, I started with:

  • all previous notes, character sheets, and jottings concerning the novel
  • a binder with looseleaf
  • colored pens, pencil, and highlighter
  • a clean printout of the novel manuscript, including all notes I`ve made in the ms while writing or reading it. In my case, these have each printed out (instead of inline) on their own sheet of paper, so I have to figure out how to deal with that.
  • an area big enough to hold the binder, a couple of different piles of manuscript pages, and my laptop, on which I`m using the software

I set up StoryLines to keep track of three things: a scene-by-scene breakdown of the action of the novel, which characters appeared in each scene, and a timeline of when and where each scene took place. Especially because this began life as a NaNoWriMo novel (which means it was written in a very fast first draft), I knew that there were probably inconsistencies of time and place. Here`s what my StoryLines sheet looks like:


You can see that the chapter numbers and titles appear in the black ovals, scene numbers in little white boxes, and that I have three horizontal rows of cards: purple for `Scene-by-Scene,` mauve for `Character Tracking,`and green for `Timeline and Location.` I can see at a glance what happened in a given scene, who was there, and where and when it took place.

So with that all set up, I choose a pen color to start with, and begin reading from the first line of the manuscript.

…to be continued…

*Photo credit: ladyheart at morguefile.com

This is working so much better…

Photobucket After the poor showing of the past two weeks with regard to writing time, this week I’m taking a different approach. I’ve blocked off time each day that is my “work time.” I have told my family that during this time I should be considered to be “at work” and more or less unreachable (emergencies notwithstanding, of course).

And it seems to be working. Today I had to re-arrange my schedule to deal with some ROML* stuff, but I still got the time in on my revision and a short story. Although it’s been only two days, this is very encouraging to me.  I am finding much to clarify, add, or improve upon in the novel revision (more than I’d hoped?  Admittedly yes.  But nothing I can’t handle, so far).  I am doubtful I can accomplish the revision in the three week time frame I was aiming for, but the plan is to simply keep working through it at a reasonable pace and see where that takes me.

In other news, the Destination: Future anthology (releasing soon!), which includes my story “Encountering Evie,” received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly! In case you don’t know what that means, it’s a good thing. :)

*Rest Of My Life

The Writing Log (update)

Photobucket I have a squeamish feeling in my stomach that this writing log idea was both good and bad.

Last week’s total was 185 minutes out of my goal of 600.

Completely pathetic.

I was telling myself that last week was an anomaly, because there were several ROML (Rest of My Life) things that I had to attend to, but this week is not shaping up much better. So far I’ve logged zilch on my personal writing. Some of it is ROML, some of it is Third Person Press, but the upshot is no minutes yet. I am considering the possibility that I have been deluding myself and that in actual fact I spend a ridiculously small amount of time on my writing. However, I am not concluding that until I have a month of logging under my belt.

That’s the squeamish part. The upside is that this is raising my awareness, so that I will be able to improve those numbers in the future.

*photo credit, sideshowmom

Writing Log

Photobucket You may notice a new item in the right sidebar–a progress bar for “Writing Time Logged This Week.” Part of my plan for the new year is to implement time-logging for my writing time, because I am interested in seeing just how much I work on it, and how that can be improved. In other words, I’m trying to cut down on my procrastinating and move to a higher level of writing focus.

To start, I arbitrarily chose 600 minutes (ten hours) a week as a goal. It may turn out that I already work more than that on average, so I`ll be making adjustments for the first while. That`s two hours a day, five days a week. Honestly, I feel sure that I`ll be able to make that easily, although this week it`s already Wednesday and this is the first day I was able to spend time enough to bother logging, so I could also be wrong about that. At any rate, I`m hoping it will be an interesting and informative experiment.

Also, I`ve made note of the fact that I am logging only time I spend actively working on my own writing projects, although it could be writing new words, revising, or editing. This doesn`t include time I spend editing or critiquing others`work, for Third Person Press or for my writing groups.

For weeks I don`t make the goal, maybe I`ll post my excuses. That should be amusing and embarrassing!

A Thing of Beauty

The image on the left is a thing of beauty.

Having started the month of November flat on my back and in pain with a slipped disc, there were times when I thought I might not get to say “I did it!” this year. However, with the help of the voice recognition software, it worked out. At 50k words, I’m maybe halfway through this novel, and I quite like it so far. I’m setting a tentative date of January 15th to try and finish the first draft. With Christmas in the offing that would usually be unrealistic, but the silver lining of my slipped disc experience is this: my shopping is 90% finished. Knowing I likely would not be very mobile even by December, I interspersed my novel-writing with online shopping and have arrived at this enviable place.

It’s too bad I can’t be in this place without major health interventions, but I’ll take what I can get.

Survive and Thrive during NaNoWriMo (part 5)

2009 NaNoWriMo participant You can’t say, I won’t write today because that excuse will extend into several days, then several months, then… you are not a writer anymore, just someone who dreams about being a writer.
~Dorothy C. Fontana

NaNoWriMo is about writing. Period. Fifty thousand words in thirty days. There really isn’t time for it to be about much other than writing, is there? And yet…

NaNoWriMo is also about connecting with other writers. It’s about meeting them face to face in your neighborhood, or virtually on the forums and chat spaces. It’s about helping other writers by answering their questions about surgery or firearms or legalese or quantum mechanics or how to make the best pound cake or (insert your specialty here). It’s about helping a newbie figure out how to keep going, how to make (or make up) that word count, fill that plot hole, or balance life during NaNo. It’s about sharing the wonderful resource you’ve found or created. It’s about designing a cool mockup cover for your book so that it feels like you’re doing something real, here. It’s about–

It’s about so much more than fifty thousand words in thirty days. And yet, those words, that story–your story–is the core of what you’re doing this month.

In among all those other things, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that. But really, that’s what all my previous posts in this series have been leading up to. How best to rearrange your life for one month so that you can write.

It’s awfully easy to let the precious time that you’ve carved out for writing be frittered away on other things–even (maybe especially) things completely related to NaNoWriMo. You don’t even feel guilty about them because they are related to NaNoWriMo. Sometimes you don’t even notice that half your days’ writing time is gone and all you’ve done so far is answered questions on the forums.

I recommend making a few basic rules for yourself during November, and try to stick to them as closely as possible.

  • Do the writing first. Don’t visit the forums, check your NaNo mail, or do anything else with your alloted writing time until you’ve done the actual writing. The only possible exception to this rule is if you are absolutely stuck on your story until you have an answer to a question you’ve posted in the forums. Maybe in that case you can check for your answer first, but this is a rare exception.
  • Participate wisely Use meetups, chat spaces, and forums as ways to inspire you and keep you writing, instead of ways to procrastinate. Take part in word wars if you find the going slow. Skip a meetup if you would really be better off staying home and writing.
  • Ask for help If you are really having a hard time making your word count, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your ML or someone who has participated before, look for advice on the forums, try some new approaches.
  • Make time for fun Once you have your words for the day, have as much fun as you want. Part of the magic of NaNoWriMo is the strong sense of community and the creative discourse you’ll find with other participants. Make the writing a priority, yes, but allow yourself to enjoy the other aspects of the experience too. You’ll come away richer for it at the end of the month.
  • Don’t give in to stress You’re asking a lot of yourself (and maybe of those around you), but don’t lose sight of the fact that this is supposed to be a fun exercise. If things aren’t working for you or the rest of your life brings unexpected challenges, give yourself permission to back out gracefully. Not everyone makes it the first time, or even a subsequent time. A little bit of stress is good, but it’s not worth making yourself crazy over this endeavour.

I think that’s enough rules for one month, but the first one bears repeating. Do the writing first. It’s the hard part, and the siren call of the other fun stuff can be hard to resist. But all the rest of it will be even more fun if you’re getting those words. Updating your word count on your profile page and watching your progress bar fill up–well, that’s the most fun of all.